Which is the worst company in the world?

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Which is the worst company in the world? Glencore Xstrata could be

Stephanie Boyd writes about why she thinks the mining company Glencore Xstrata should win Public Eye’s competition.


A police officer aims his gun at an indigenous woman who is protesting GX's Tintaya mine in Espinar, Peru, May 2012. (Miguel Gutierrez)

We can vote for the world’s worst corporation. Eight companies are on the shortlist for the annual Public Eye awards. This award is given to the corporations that are the worst for human rights and the environment.

Vote on the Public Eye Award here: http://publiceye.ch/en/

The awards are sponsored by Greenpeace and the Berne Declaration. They will be given at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January to the (un)lucky winners. One award is decided by a jury. The jury is made up of famous experts in business ethics, the environment and human rights, including Vandana Shiva. It’s a close competition. The corporations include Gap, Syngenta/Bayer/BASF, FIFA and Glencore Xstrata.

All the companies are so terribly bad, I found it hard to choose only one. In the end, I voted from my personal experience. I live near a mine owned by Glencore Xstrata (GX) in the mountains of Peru and I have seen the long conflict.

Last May, three people were killed and about 100 wounded when police tried to stop protests with violence at GX’s Tintaya mine. The protesters were not trying to close the mine, they only wanted to improve the environmental monitoring and get money to develop their community.

Many of the demonstrators want the mining to continue and their jobs are related to the company. Like Carlos (not his real name) a young mechanic. The police attacked him as he and some friends were leaving the peaceful demonstration.

‘The officers started hitting us and kicking us to the ground,’ he said. ‘One officer held a gun to my friend’s head and then shot the gun into the ground.’

They hit and tortured Carlos at the mine with 22 other men and women. And they kept him there for more than 24 hours.

This is just one of the accusations against GX around the world. Human rights activists have come together and started the Shadow Network: Glencore Xstrata Watchdogs to monitor the company and fight for changes. Earlier this year I met with some of the network’s members from Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, the Philippines, Peru and Switzerland.


Contamination from a mine owned by GX in Bolivia (Shadow Network: Glencore Xstrata Watchdogs)

Their stories are all very similar: there is not enough environmental monitoring and control, there are threats against leaders, there is police violence against peaceful demonstrations and they do not want to negotiate with community leaders.

In Argentina GX will have to fight three lawsuits, two for contaminating the environment and another for smuggling (bringing into the country) minerals without paying taxes. Colombian activists say the company has to fight nine legal cases and more than 600 families have been forced to leave their land because of pollution from GX’s work.

The company also owns nearly a quarter of Lonmin. This is a platinum mine where 34 striking miners were shot dead last August. It was one of South Africa’s bloodiest police operations since apartheid.

Father Joy, a quiet priest from the Philippines, tells one of the saddest stories. He says the planned Tampakan mine will force 5,000 members of the indigenous B’laan tribe to leave their ancestral lands. GX have not talked to the tribe much about the plans.

He usually smiles, but his face gets sad as he tells me about a B’laan woman and her two children. The military killed them last year. The murdered woman was the wife of a B’laan leader who is fighting against the Tampakan project; neighbours said the woman and her children were sleeping peacefully in their beds when they were killed. A few months later, the B’laan leader’s younger brother was also killed by the military. In court, in a Congressional hearing about the murders, people from the Philippine military said that a smaller subsidiary company of GX gives money to paramilitary groups in this area.

Father Joy and other network members say Glencore Xstrata is a new global threat because it has joined together with other companies to become more powerful. It is a very large corporation and it controls a large portion of the world’s metals market and other goods. The new larger company has 90 offices in over 50 countries. They work with everything, for example: copper, zinc, offshore oil production, farms and agricultural facilities.


The construction of a GX mine in Colombia. (Shadow Network: Glencore Xstrata Watchdogs)

I asked GX to say something about the Public Eye Awards nomination, and a polite man from media relations sent me a 5-page document. It said they had not done any of the bad things.

The document says GX follows the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and GX has signed the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights.

‘Voluntary’ is the important word: no-one makes sure they follow this code and companies ‘self-regulate’ – they decide what to report.

This means GX can say they have signed the code. But at the same time, they can quietly pay Peruvian police to provide security for their Tintaya mine. Human rights groups sent me a copy of the contract between Xstrata and Peru’s national police force. This shows that the company pays police to guard the mine and has the ‘support’ of the area’s police commander.

Yes, the national police get money to do what a private company tells them. Is this dangerous? Ask the 23 people who were tortured at the Tintaya mine by Peruvian police last year. Ask the widows and children of the three men who were killed.

This is very bad evidence. Maybe the leaders at GX need to think carefully and make some real, honest changes to the way they do business.

They are not doing this yet - we can see this from their response to the Public Eye Award nomination. So they will probably win one of the top awards.

But that’s just my opinion. Now it’s your turn to vote - which company do you think is the worst?

Choose and vote. This will send a message to the world’s economic leaders when they meet next year in Davos: we’re watching you, so clean up your company, because sooner or later, we will see the truth. And next time, you might win the prize of worst company.

Vote on the Public Eye Award here: http://publiceye.ch/en/

As this article has been simplified, the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed. For the original, please see: http://newint.org/features/web-exclusive/2013/12/04/glencore-xstrata-worst-corporation-award/